Odes to every zephyr
sips gourmet coffee and aromatic teas on the banks of the Nile
The journey from California to Zamalek -- from the edge of America to the heart of contemporary Cairo -- has been long overdue and symbolic. The Nile panorama from Abul-Feda provided the perfect spot for the first Cairo outlet of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf -- the classy California coffeehouse chain. "Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair," sang Wallace Stevens in his Sunday Morning. For me, the evocative location of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, better known as The Bean, conjures up the imagery in Steven's poem.
And, wasn't it he who noted that "the only emperor is the emperor of ice cream". In 1963 Herbert Hyman, the founding father of gourmet coffee in California, launched "The Bean", and drinking coffee and tea has never been the same again. He has greatly enriched the coffee and tea worlds. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf is one of the largest privately-owned, family-run coffee and tea companies in the world. The atmospheric coffeehouse, just opened in the pleasant and leafy island, is consequently an alluring haunt, commanding superb views of the river and its lush and verdant banks. The Bean is now a popular lunch spot overlooking the Nile, abuzz with the young, the up and coming and people in the make. People watching is a popular pastime. And the place is always aroar with action. But for all the beauty of the river, it is the quality of the coffee and the keen clientele of the Bean, born and brewed in California, that really matter.
Although the connoisseurs can be a boisterous lot, the buzzing, airy atmosphere uplifts the spirit. This vibrant Zamalek café provides a lovely setting for light lunch and supper. The Bean deserves to prosper. In fact the only criticism of The Bean on a busy weekend evening could be raised at the noise level. And, it is usually quite busy, but especially so on a gloriously sunny November day when we popped in for a cup of coffee. The sun was shining on the river. The fantastic sunsets of the west-facing riverside café are truly memorable.
The clientele, relaxing on comfortable chairs sipping exotic concoctions, are reminiscent of the words of Wordsworth. "Is it a party in the parlour? Cramm'd just as they on earth were cramm'd ... Some sipping punch, some sipping tea". With the free wireless Internet connection there was a youthful clientele on their laptops busy networking or chatting online as well. The rush to open new cafés in Cairo is on. What unites The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Starbucks of Seattle and France's Columbus Café is that for each of the coffeehouse chains, their new café marks a long overdue emergence into the spotlight of Zamalek. Some branch out to other Cairene suburbs. The Bean, which stresses its commitment to quality and an awareness of local customs and preferences, serves some 30 varieties of tea and 27 kinds of the world's finest coffees -- roasted daily in small batches in a manual European roast-style. The Bean caters for the purveyors of high-end blends. There is plenty of opportunity for something light and fresh. And, one can avoid the ones that one just knows are dripping in extra-cholesterol that are sure to be indigestible.
The Bean serves both hot and cold quality food. The menu is truly inviting -- sandwiches, snacks and beverages galore. For coffeehouse devotees there is a splendid array of delectable fruit infusions -- Japanese cherry green tea, spiced masala chai -- the tropical passion latte was divine, and the Moroccan mint latte had a rich distinctive flavour -- wonderfully warm frothed milk topped with crème fraiche. I am not too keen on pastries myself, but this eatery's spinach puff pastry is superb. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf has given me an appetite for the snacks of Cairo cafés.
At the Bean we sampled the exquisite smoked Norwegian salmon, tomato herb pasta sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and the roast chicken and mushroom fusili -- tender chicken chunks in juicy mushrooms, not the tinned variety, gently simmered in a special creamy homemade sauce. And, what's for afters? Muffins deliciously light and fruity. Even if you don't drink coffee or tea, this Zamalek curiosity is definitely not to be missed.
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
Om Kulthoum Tower,
Abul-Feda Street, Zamalek